Giant snakes

Seeing movies like Anaconda let many people believe that there are monster snakes in jungles, some even exceeding 10 m in length. However, those stories have been doing the rounds for many years. So much so that the New York Zoological Society has offered a steadily increasing award for a snake of 30 feet (just over 9.1 m) since 1910. This reward reached $ 50,000 in 2002 but has since been canceled, probably to discourage people from bothering giant snakes in the wild.

What are the biggest snakes?

John Murphy and Tom Crutchfield address the size issue in giant snakes in their excellent book Giant Snakes – A Natural History.  The longest snake in the world is the Reticulated Python of Asia, which probably reaches 8 – 8.5 m. I know of captive individuals that measured just over 7 m. The Green Anaconda, on the other hand, is by far the bulkiest snake in the world, and it appears that the largest individuals come from gallery forests in tropical savannah and oxbow lakes. The maximum length of the Green Anaconda is around 7.5 m.

Southern African Python

The Southern African Python (Python natalensis) reportedly reaches a length of close to 6 m, but individuals exceeding 5.5 m are exceptionally rare. Females grow much larger and longer than males and can lay over 100 eggs (average 30-60). While studying Southern African Pythons in Dinokeng Reserve for more than 10 years, Prof Graham Alexander caught several pythons, but the longest one they encountered was 4.8 m and weighed 56 kg.

Attacks from giant snakes often feature in the press, and it is often believed that many people are attacked and swallowed by pythons and anacondas. Murphy and Crutchfield report four attacks on humans by the Green Anaconda – one in 1863, two in 1956, and a fourth in 2007. Both the 1956 attacks were fatal – one of the victims, a 13-year-old boy, was swallowed and later regurgitated.

They mention more than a dozen human deaths from Reticulated Pythons since 1910, but some scientists suggest a few such deaths every year. Considering the size of this snake, it does seem plausible.

Southern African python attacks

Python attacks are reported occasionally, but most are insignificant – a bite to the leg with the python quickly releasing and disappearing. Most such attacks seem to be hoaxes. In 1961, there was a report of a miner in the Eastern Transvaal catching a python that coiled around him. He was rescued, went to hospital, and died the next day from a ruptured spleen and damaged kidneys.

The late Wulf Haacke reported a second-hand story of an adult killed by a giant python in Angola. This was back in 1973, but it was subsequently said that the python had killed and swallowed a goat. Haacke reported another case in 1982 where a boy was attacked by a python near Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal but not killed. A python attack from a 7 m python near Durban in 2002 received much publicity. The initial story was that three young boys were playing in a mango tree, and one got down from the tree, was attacked by a large python and swallowed, and the snake disappeared. The children claimed they watched the python eating their friend for three hours. This matter was subsequently investigated, and it turned out that there was no missing boy and that the boys had made up the story.

More stories of python attacks

Another story came from a mine in Limpopo where a security guard on duty was sleeping under a tree when a large python grabbed and consumed him. The mine released an official statement warning the workers not to drink or sleep on duty. This was a hoax, and the mine created the scenario to scare workers and prevent them from slacking on their shifts.

While conducting field research in Dinokeng, three researchers were bitten on a leg by a python in ambush, but the python quickly pulled back and slithered off. The bites were minor, with some teeth marks.

The late Dr Bill Branch documented a python fatality in 1979. It occurred at 17:50 on 22 November 1979 on the farm Grootfontein in the Waterberg district in Limpopo. Two young Tswana men were chasing cattle along a pathway when a large python grabbed one of them (13 years old) on the calf. The other young man ran for help, about half a kilometer away. When they returned about 20 minutes later, the python entwined the victim. They attacked the python with a pickaxe and rocks, and the python let go of its victim, who was already dead at that stage. The snake was tracked down two days later. This is the only accurate report of a fatal python attack in South Africa in recent years.

We appreciate your opinion